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Automakers get Siri-ous with 'eyes free' button

It’s hard to find a new car, these days, that doesn’t offer a USB port.  Make that a USB port specifically equipped with the specific cord designed to link an iPhone or some other Apple device to your vehicle infotainment system.

Based on plans announced by Apple at its annual software developer’s conference it appears Apple wants to grab a spot on the steering wheel, as well. 

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While your recent-model car likely already has a button to activate its voice command system its replacement might very well feature a second button to wake up Siri.  That’s Apple’s proprietary voice command system that can help you do anything from plug a destination into your navigation system to find the best synonym for “corporate arrogance.”

Apple is calling the button “Eyes Free,” according to the tech website Engadget.  And it appears the button would only operate an iPhone or another Apple device equipped with Siri – which is soon expected to include an update version of the Apple iPad.

Tapping the Eyes Free button would allow you to access all manner of apps and functions directly on your i-device, rather than the car’s infotainment controls – but because more and more vehicles are tightly paired with iPhones that might allow you to load a music service like Pandora or some other app.  It would certainly help you find the nearest Apple store or Starbucks. 

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According to Engadget quoting Scott Forstall, the czar of Apple’s iOS operating system, a long list of manufacturers have already signed on, including Audi, BMW, Chrysler, General Motors, Honda, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota, and Eyes Free could start showing up in some vehicles by about this time next year, most likely making it the big technology news for the 2014 model-year.

What about folks using Blackberrys, Androids or Microsoft-powered phones? They’d likely be out of luck unless automakers opt to make  the Eyes Free button serve a dual purpose – something that the demanding Apple is not likely to accept without a fight.

Significantly, the list of maker’s opting in does not include Ford which turned to Microsoft to develop its popular Sync technology.  Also absent is Kia, which also is running a Microsoft-powered infotainment system. 

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Hyundai, meanwhile, is also off the list, apparently focused on expanding the market for its Blue Link system.

But more surprising is the fact that GM is pairing up with Apple despite the potential conflict between Siri and the OnStar system.  Meanwhile, Cadillac is just launching a high-function infotainment system, dubbed CUE, that happens to incorporate some of the basic Siri software.  The big difference is that CUE does not reach out to the “cloud,” but is a fully self-contained system – though, like Siri, it is able to respond to common language commands, rather than requiring users to learn strict command trees that might require four or five steps to do something as simple as pairing a Bluetooth-equipped phone.